Thursday, April 12, 2018
Being The King
(thanks for the inspiration BH)
"Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown" - Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 2
Chess is a fascinating game. For more than a thousand years, this game has been used to sharpen our analytical and strategic minds. Chess has also contributed to our understanding of mathematics and psychology, as well as computer science. Thousands of books and articles have been written about Chess and it continues to be studied intently today.
Despite having only a limited space and scope, 64 space and 16 pieces, the combination of possibles moves and outcomes is practically infinite. At its most basic premise, this mirrors our lives very well - since we are also finite but with practically unlimited potential.
The King is one of my favorite pieces in Chess. Many prefer the Queen, since she is often considered the most powerful. However, even the Queen must be sacrificed if needed in order to protect the King. This means that the King is truly the most important piece in the game. This is ironic, since the King himself rarely captures another piece. It is clever use of the other pieces, and a good understanding of the battlefield (the board) that makes a Chess master. The game is a subtle blend of patience and aggressiveness that I continue to find fascinating.
There is an important understanding here. In life, too, we are often focused on our individual contribution - our own KPIs - as a way of justifying/validating ourselves. In this, we lose sight of the fact that the King's real power is the power of his supporting cast: the bishops, rooks, knights and especially pawns, that determines the outcome. All of these pieces are aligned to protect the King and to wage war on the opponent. They each have unique skills and limitations, but if used in combination they can be unbeatable. Every piece matters, and each lost piece is significant to the overall outcome. Sacrificing pieces is rarely an effective strategy and is usually not done without very specific gains associated.
Of course it is no accident that the role of the Queen is significant. A bold partner is indeed a force to be reckoned with, and choosing a strong right hand to act in concert with the king and the rest of the team is key. Using the Queen in a good balance of offense and defense is vital to victory. Losing the Queen often results in downfall.
As BH wisely pointed out, the more senior we become, the more we act as an influence to those around us - the other pieces - making sure they are included in the strategy and aware of their unique contribution to it. We can accomplish so much more as an orchestrator than we could as an individual contributor. Using the King as a proxy for any other piece usually results in a loss, so it is important to learn how to adapt to a leadership role when the time comes.
In companies, the "King" (CEO), is also reliant on a host of other "pieces" in various departments such as sales, marketing, operations, IT, finance, HR to execute his/her strategy and keep him/her (and the organization) safe. It is a reminder that selecting and curating talent is the most important factor for success in any organization, and the King's ability to influence others' mindset/culture is a big determiner of success. Remaining clear about the roles of each group and keeping them aligned is also paramount. Without clear guidance and direction, the pieces do not operate together as a team, and this usually ends in disaster.
Since IBM's Big Blue beat Chess Grandmaster Gary Kasparov in 1997, we have found that AI can be a big factor in chess. Programmed well, these learning computers have the ability to perform deep analytics with a lot of computation to validate possible outcomes. In business, too, strong leaders use data analytics heavily to validate their decisions and empower even their front line staff (pawns) to do so as well. "Better informed, better performed" or so it would seem.
In martial arts the parallels to Chess are very common and well-discussed. Even I have had a go at it. However, as described above, it is interesting to consider that just like in chess, the different pieces yield different combinations of moves. This is why it is so important to train a wide variety of scenarios and combinations involving different ranges and heights, different environments, different tools/weapons and even different numbers of participants. Every variable we change offers a new chance to discover and learn. Patterns and habits in Chess, like in fighting, can be read and used against us by a savvy opponent.
Although not a skillful player, I have always enjoyed Chess and appreciated its significance as more than just a game. Martial arts, too, is much more than game and similarly can offer deep insights about how to improve our lives.